Derry households pay more for oil than their Belfast peers while poorer Derry homes are charged more to keep their homes warm than their richer neighbours, according to a leading energy expert.
Laurence Arbuckle, a senior manager at Bryson Energy, exposed stark East/West and rich/poor divides in oil pricing at a briefing of Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Environment & Regeneration Committee.
Oil prices, currently at a ten year high in the North, are a major contributory factor to fuel poverty rates, he said. The fact fuel poor households in Derry are paying more for oil than in Belfast is exacerbating the problem.
“Oil is dear enough when it gets to Belfast from the Middle East. It should not be five pence dearer when it gets to Derry,” he said.
In a detailed presentation Mr. Arbuckle laid bare startling discrepancies in oil pricing drawing from a survey conducted on October 25.
He revealed that Derry householders purchasing 500 litres of oil could expect to pay five pence more (60 pence per litre) than their Belfast brethren (55 pence). This fell to a three pence deficit (56 pence per litre in Derry and 53 pence per litre in Belfast) when the load was 900 litres but rose to an 11 pence premium (78 pence in Derry and 67 pence in Belfast) when the load was 150 litres.
Mr. Arbuckle said this is a signifcant budget headache for fuel poor households and that the average purchaser of a 500 litre load in Derry is paying around £25 extra per load.
Richer householders, meanwhile, are also better able to make savings by bulk buying fuel.
For example, someone in a position to buy a 900 litre load can purchase oil six pence per litre cheaper than if they can only afford 500 litres at a time. Some suppliers are charging as much as 76p per litre for 150 litres
“Poorer people pay more per litre because they are buying in smaller loads, quite considerably more.
“They are paying 20 pence more per litre because they are poor. To me that stinks,” said Mr. Arbuckle.
Many poorer homes are forced to rely on their own plastic containers and fill them if and when they can at 66p per litre in order to cope with fuel poverty.
This is an even more expensive and dangerous means of budgeting, despite the supplier having no delivery costs.
“It’s 10 p or 12 p dearer per litre and people are picking it up themselves, spilling it in the car, endangering their own children, and then spilling it all over the yard,” he said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said: “No one in this chamber is unaware of the issue of fuel poverty but of the disparity between ourselves and Belfast I was not aware. It is alarming.
“It’s alarming that no-one is regulating it. And it’s something that seems to be outwith our control.”
SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney described the price differential as “absolutely shocking”.
“A lot of people in Derry nad Strabane cannot afford 900 litres and I believe more people in Derry and Strabane would be using the small containers,” he said.